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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Challenge Yourself to Teach Well in 2016-2017

I love a good challenge, and when it comes to my professional work, the overall challenge is to teach well.

As I move closer to the start of the school year though I want to make that goal more explicit, tangible, and visible so I'm focusing in on the question, "What does teaching well in 2016-2017 look like? and "A year from now, what goals will I be proud to say that I achieved?"

Long ago I read a quote from the then President of Boston College who essentially said that success is choosing a path and then dedicating yourself to that path. That's what can happen for every educator in 2016-2017. Carefully choose the path, explicitly outline the goals, and then move towards that vision and mission step by step.

Specifically what will that look like for me? I write about this again and again to strengthen the path and direct myself forward since there are so many temptations to step off the path, get distracted, and not support the work. Also there are few supports to lean on to reach these goals, thus the self coaching. In many cases, educators are mostly on their own when it comes to meeting the professional goals they set.

My overarching goal as stated many times before is to teach math and STEAM well while building a strong, caring, and dynamic teaching/learning team that includes students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

To do this requires the following:
  • A strong teaching/learning plan that embeds experience, research, students' interest and need, and identified standards.
  • Plenty of student-centered response and personalization to support every child's growth.
  • Informal and formal formative and summative assessment that informs the teaching/learning path.
  • Strong, respectful relationships with all members of the teaching/learning team.
  • Engaging, empowering learning experiences.
  • A loose-tight curriculum map that ensures we meet all expectations and leaves room for personalization and response.
  • A positive daily and weekly routine that supports the goals outlined.
  • A culturally proficient program that makes space for student diversity, voice, and choice in meaningful, respectful, and relevant ways. 
It's imperative not to make the plan top heavy with too many goals and not enough time and support. Instead it's got to be a mostly realistic plan with a bit of space for exciting, new ideas too.

What do these goals look like in real time?

Relationship Building
Time at the start of the year to get to know the learning team including family members, students, educators, administrators, and related community members with care. Then a regular routine of thoughtful efforts to develop those relationships with a focus on successful teaching and learning for every child.

Curriculum Map
Time to create a loose-tight curriculum map with grade-level colleagues, a map to lead us throughout the year.

Daily, Weekly Routines
Time to review the schedule and solidify optimal daily and weekly routines so that most of our time is spent on deep work to teach every child well.

Content Knowledge
Reading, writing, creating, reflecting, assessing, and revising learning experiences and the general curriculum program to make sure it is a program that represents the best that we can do. Specifically, I'll chart the math lessons and efforts on the The Teach Math Well blog. Similarly I'll plan and reflect on STEAM and learning community efforts via this blog and the Learning Behaviors and Mindsets website. 

Engaging and Empowering Learning Experiences
This is the area of greatest attention as when an educator sensitively and responsively engages and empowers students with awesome, deep, and meaningful learning experience, he/she is doing the job well. This part of the job takes attention, care, good relationships, creativity, and joy. In the best of circumstances, educators have what they need to employ and support these kinds of learning experiences regularly throughout every day with little distraction or and lots of needed to support to do the job well. 

While there are many other areas for educators to get involved in, areas that help teachers and students to get the good support that makes a big difference to what we can do--supports like ample supplies, good working conditions, fair salaries, equitable, fair standards and expectations, and academic freedom, the key aspects of the job are listed above.

As for the other areas, I believe that every educator should do their part in this regard by advocating for fair working conditions that support the best that we can do so that we can go to school each day and focus on the children rather than so many other matters that often get in the way--matters that educators lament including these:
  • lack of transparent, inclusive, regular communication
  • little lead time for new initiatives and mandates
  • little say over purchasing, educational environments, and policy/practice decisions
When issues like these dominate, educators are more disempowered than empowered and that creates less potential for the great teaching and learning that may exist in every school. 

There's the temptation for some of us to get too serious over all of this, and we have to fight that urge as it can take away from the good work possible. Yet, there's also the temptation for others to ignore the bigger issues that affects the work we do--issues like equity, voice, sufficient supports, reasonable work conditions, and fair treatment of all. The happy medium is to stay mostly focused on your role, but to advocate too with colleagues for what is right and good in schools. It can be a difficult balance to manage, but nevertheless, it's an important balance.

Again and again, like other educators, I coach myself forward in this regard. For many these conversations are tough and uninviting. Others quickly embrace the work without a great need for self coaching or support. And then there are those, like me, who have to continually dig deep within to muster the strength to do the job I know is possible and to move forward with depth and attention to the mainstay expectations as well as the gnawing injustices and amazing potential that exist to teach every child well.